By Ramesh Ponnuru
Michele Bachmann won the greatest victory of her political career the same day much of the rationale for her candidacy evaporated. The Minnesota congresswoman came in first in the Iowa Republican straw poll, effectively removing former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty from contention in the presidential race. But Texas governor Rick Perry entered the race today, too, and he may do to her what she just did to Pawlenty.
Bachmann appeals to Republican voters who are searching for an articulate and uncompromising conservatism, and to an overlapping set of voters who prefer their leaders to be evangelical Protestants. They can find those traits in Perry, too—but Perry also has executive experience and a record of accomplishment that Bachmann lacks.
None of this means that Bachmann cannot continue to gain followers. She may even win the Iowa caucuses. But Perry and Mitt Romney will now dominate the race for the Republican nomination: One of those two men is highly likely to be the Republican nominee.
The upcoming race may obscure the fact, but Perry and Romney are not far apart on the issues. Both want to repeal Obama’s health-care law. Both say that the debt ceiling should not be raised until Congress passes a constitutional amendment to balance the budget and limit federal spending. Yet in other respects they are as different as two Republicans could be. The race could highlight the divide between Massachusetts and Texas, between technocracy and conviction, between Mormonism and evangelical Protestantism, between the desire for victory and the desire for purity, and even between old-time Republicans and newcomers. (Mitt Romney inherited his Republicanism from his father, a former governor of Michigan. Perry left the Democrats in 1989, and his parents were, he remarked in today’s speech, “tenant farmers.”)
The Republican party is often said to have a history of nominating “the next person in line,” which is supposedly good news for Romney. But it is at least as true that the party has a history of nominating candidates with executive experience from the South and the West. This will be a real race.
Pawlenty wasn’t the only big loser of the day. It is fashionable to disparage the Iowa straw poll as an undemocratic fundraising racket for the state Republican party because, well, that’s what it is. This year, neither of the top two candidates contested the straw poll, and its main effect has been to shoot a candidate, Pawlenty, who was already limping. The straw poll has never looked more irrelevant than it does today.
(Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist.)
-0- Aug/14/2011 00:39 GMT